Strategic Thinking! Feelings Not Welcome?

by Sara Simons

A recent conversation with a corporate strategist spurred a few thoughts for me. I caught him on the back end of facilitating strategy meetings for a cross-cultural team helping them discern their next steps together as a team. This is a familiar scene for him where emotions often run high and people experience real and perceived threat to job security. Wonderment persists as to the process and where it will lead the team and individuals in future decisions. Different in this case, however, included a group of 8 individuals of different disciplines than he typically worked - therapists, spiritual directors and coaches.  How did this affect the process? He said he had never worked with a group so self-aware!

I immediately wondered, what changes in that dynamic from those who are not self-aware? Everyone in this group knew how they felt almost instantly. They knew when they were anxious. They were aware when their heart beat faster. They report they have a gut ache around certain topics and stressful conversations. They carry the weight of others, as well. They notice the way others in the room are experiencing these meetings and their visceral reactions that can affect the communication flow. They were skeptical of the process as many were in their own time of discernment. 

Fascinated, I asked, how does that change the process for you? He said, "Ultimately it slows  down the process. Not that it's bad. It makes it harder to facilitate." He reported that trying to be a self-aware leader himself required facilitating the process more intentionally spending more time waiting for those who were not just making decisions with their logical brains but also with their hearts and their bodies.

From this conversation, I couldn't help but wonder “Are there places and times when  emotions and things of the heart need to take a back seat to that of the head? Why do we place such emphasis on self-awareness when it can slow us down, especially at important times of decision-making? 

Let me back up a minute. I showed up late to the idea of emotions being wonderful and powerful and necessary. I spent much of my childhood devaluing my emotions. I hid them when I sprained an ankle in basketball. If I was sad, I resolved to never let others see my feelings. Although the sub-culture I was born and raised in did not value emotional expression, I was surrounded by a family who did. Two dozen moves before the age of 20 led me to vow to never feel the intensity of the sadness that comes with goodbyes. Recognizing the impact on my relationships and my capacity to hold others emotions in early adulthood, caused me to see that I was a slow learner in developing this essential core element of who I am today. 

In addition to my upbringing and a host of moves, my natural wiring is more of a thinker, strategic and analytical type. When I take (and re-take) the Strengths FinderTM assessment tool, I hit the strategic column in all the top 10 list. What this says about me is that activating my thinker-brain is how I process the world around me in nearly any situation. This current wondering in turn comes from my wiring NOT from my knowledge about feelings being essential and even guiding in how we interact with our world. The voice of our hearts comes through our emotions and I’m convinced that those nudgings are 100% worth acknowledging.   

However my desire when working with people as a transition coach is multi-fold. My current work and passions are ALL ABOUT the integration of emotions, thoughts and bodily sensations. My whole job revolves around helping people gain self-awareness in their transition.  Yet, I have spent a lifetime in conflict with how much and when to be utilizing one aspect over the other. Are there more appropriate places to display or utilize one element over another? Historically I admit I’ve felt like there are certain places where emotions or thoughts are more welcome - a funeral > emotions; a business meeting > thoughts.

Coming alongside people (or teams) in places of stuckness, is conflicted head/heart work. I'm not meant to solve others problems or discern next steps for them. Ultimately I'm a question-asking guide. "Have you thought about X?" "When you use your strengths in this area of tension how does that work for you?" Asking the what-ifs and the brainstorming questions allowing for a desired safe space to consider possibilities. I guide as someone gone down a winding path; yet having continually come out better on the other side. 

I believe the place for feelings is alongside the other parts of us that also need to be acknowledged. Having strong Myers-Briggs type feelers in the decision-making room brings depth. Likewise does having thinkers in a room full of feelers. Maybe the question isn’t where is it appropriate, but rather how can our tendency towards one be more fully developed and “taught” by others not like us. How can we begin to embrace both thinking and feeling in all situations to more fully integrate our head and our heart in every situation ESPECIALLY DECISION-MAKING?! And might there be the need on teams and in organizations for the feelers, the thinkers, those with big hearts and those with strategic minds to all come to the table to express the unique wiring that makes up a team or organization? 

Questions to consider:

Who in your life models for you how to be the thinker or feeler that you lack?

Are your team or organization’s deciding bodies made up of both head and heart types?

What would more of a balance look like in your own life?